When is the best time to visit?
Budapest is the capital of Hungary, divided by the Danube into Buda (right bank) and Pest (left bank) used to be, along with Vienna, the joint imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. Visitors fly to Budapest because the city caters for a variety of travellers, from architecture of historical significance, to over 100 hot springs, lakes, tournaments and a major music festival.
Budapest has long, warm, humid summers and short, cold winters. The city averages more sunshine per year than any other European city, between April and the end of September, there are about ten hours of sun per day. Spring and autumn are beautiful here, as is the summer. Early April marks the beginning of spring, and by May the temperature can reach 21 degrees. Both spring and autumn are glorious in Budapest, with plenty to see and do. May through June and late August through September are the best times to find cheap flights to Budapest and visit as the weather is excellent. Summer can be quite warm and humid with temperatures in the high 20s. It stays warm until October.
July and August are the peak season for visitors coming to Budapest. The city is hot and crowded and the lake region is mobbed.
For those looking for a party-filled week, Sziget Festival is the perfect event. Combining well-known international artists, with the best Hungarian bands and rising stars, it’s no wonder the festival attracts around 400,000 visitors from all over the world. The festival takes place in August on Óbuda Island in Budapest.
The Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix is held at the Hungaroring Grand Prix Circuit every year, during the month of July. Crowds of people flock to the area to spot famous F1 faces and catch a glimpse of the action. Ensure that you book your flight to Budapest well in advance to get the best deal as demand and prices for flights and hotels rise during this period.
Mid-December is when it starts to get cold and many museums and tourist attractions close for the season. December through February temperatures are usually between -6 and 0. It snows frequently, but the snowfall is light.
Budapest World Heritage sites include the banks of the Danube, Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue and Millennium Underground railway. Budapest (and Hungary), is known for thermal springs, many of them in baths and spas. The Szechenyi baths are the most famous, a glorious yellow confection with arches, columns and mosaics.
The Szechenyi Chain Bridge, which links Buda and Pest, resembles the Hammersmith Bridge in London (it was built by the same man, Adam Clark) and the Hungarian Parliament Building, all Gothic Revival with spiky spires, is modelled on the Houses of Parliament. Not only is it Hungary's largest building, it is where St Stephen’s Crown, symbol of Hungarian statehood for more than 1,000 years, is kept. Another part of Hungary's first Christian king, his right hand, is in St. Stephen's Basilica.
Café culture has always been popular, particularly in Pest where influential artists like Gulácsy would have sipped Turkish coffee. In the north east of Pest, you’ll find a remnant of Hungary’s soviet occupation called Sculpture Park, a place where soviet sculptures from all over Hungary were dragged and displayed to serve as a reminder of a dark period of history and its idiosyncratic aesthetics.
Getting around Budapest
Hungary’s capital is divided in two by the river, but both Buda and Pest are easy to get around. Buses, trams and trains are both affordable and dependable. The metro works on an "honour system". Validate your ticket when you board, or risk paying a large fine. (It’s not a risk worth taking. There are plenty of transport police and they’re strict when it comes to dishing out fines.)
Getting to the city
Flying to Budapest is convenient, the city has an airport, Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD), with buses to the city centre departing every 30 minutes, and there is an airport minibus service that takes passengers to any destination in the city as soon as the bus is full. Tickets can be purchased in the Arrival Hall at the Airport Minibus counter. Express bus runs to the nearest metro station, or taxis are available from the taxi stand.
Budapest insider information
- Budapest is the city of spas and there are a total of 118 hot springs in the city, which feed more than a dozen baths. Two of the oldest are the Kiraly Baths, on which building work began in 1565, and the Rudas Medicinal Baths. Both were open only to men until 2005, but there are now women only days available as well. Ensure you check before you visit for the correct days…
- Not quite as old, but often more popular with tourists are the three big baths in the centre of town: the Gellert baths in Buda (attached to the Gellert hotel and built in 1918), the Lukacs Medicinal Baths, also in Buda, and the Szechenyi Baths, possibly the most famous, located on the Pest side of the city. The Gellert has a total of nine medicinal pools, so is the place to come for the full spa experience, while the latter two have some wonderful outdoor swimming pools and are therefore more appealing in summer months.
- Hungarian cuisine might not be the first thing to come to mind when you’re thinking of fine dining, but the ever-popular goulash is a local dish worth trying. Goulash is, contrary to popular belief, a thick soup rather than a stew, and is a warming and heartening meal on cold winter evenings.
- A city on the banks of the Danube, Budapest has many spectacular bridges. For a view of many of them, take a walk up Gellert hill. From the highest point, the Citadella, you can see stunning views of the Danube stretching out in both directions.
- The hill is also home to the Gellert Hill Cave, which housed a chapel until it was banned by the Communist regime in 1951. Restored in 1992, the chapel is now open for visits.